London – As US citizens traveling abroad are urged to return to the US due to the coronavirus pandemic, many residents of the UK fear they may soon become stuck in limbo: Unjustified for UK government support if they lose their jobs, they also have no homes – or health insurance – to go back to in the US
About 174,000 Americans live in the UK, many of whom are not eligible for state aid under the terms of their visas.
Rachel George, an American who works for a London-based research firm, told CBS News that she would like to see leaders on either side of the Atlantic at least acknowledge the uncertainty faced by foreign countries.
“As someone who lives outside their home country, you really start to feel some confusion and anxiety about being able to plan about different events, about how it can affect your family life, how it can affect your professional options, your health care rights, the these kinds of things, ”she said.
Many Americans who move to the UK come to work or spousal visas. Both require people to earn a certain amount of money – either as individuals or couples – to qualify. A person must live in the UK for five years before being granted unemployment benefit from the UK Government, which means that many expatriates would be left without support if they lose their jobs.
This is a serious concern as measures aimed at limiting the spread of coronavirus force countless companies to shut down. Unemployment in the UK is expected to rise as a result of the pandemic from around 4% to 6%, according to research company Capital Economics.
If an American expat on a work visa loses their job before being in the UK for five years, they must leave the country.
The UK home office told CBS News that it was, “with a compassionate and pragmatic approach to an exceptional situation, with a dedicated help center set up for those in need of help.”
The UK government has said that short extensions will be granted to people whose visas have expired but who cannot enter one of the extremely limited flights to their home countries. They have also changed rules to allow some visas from the UK to be renewed.
But it has not relieved the anxiety expats feel.
“I have nothing to go back to”
Brooke Stokes moved to the UK in October after marrying a British man she met on holiday. She works as a caregiver and helps older people who need help in their homes.
Thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, she has made 16-hour shifts and covered staff shortages when her colleagues are forced to self-isolate. She is worried that her husband may be dismissed, which would make it impossible for them to pay their bills, let alone save for her next visa renewal.
“If we do not meet the income requirement or can afford the visa, I obviously have no savings in getting things in place (in the US), such as health insurance, housing,” Stokes told CBS News. “It’s very, very concerning right now.”
She plans to continue working as much as she can until the government’s guidance changes or her situation does.
“It’s not really home,” Stokes says, contemplating a possible forced return to the United States. “I have nothing to go back to.”